Clippers aren’t interested in waiting to make playoff push
Several times after the final buzzer sounded this season, Clippers guard Patrick Beverley has walked straight from the court and into a weight room. There, wearing his game shorts, sneakers and a tank top, he lifts for 15 to 20 minutes.
His teammates, many of them long since showered and dressed, know when he returns. His wisecracks fill the locker room.
It stood out, then, when Beverley wasn’t a ball of energy inside Indiana’s visiting locker room following the Clippers’ Feb. 7 loss. Consider the circumstances: The Clippers had either traded or waived six of his teammates, including the leading scorer, in the previous 48 hours. And after being blasted by 24 points against the Pacers, the team’s viability as a playoff contender was in question.
This was no small thing for Beverley, who has made the playoffs four times in his six NBA seasons and earned the most attention in his career during postseason playoff matchups against Russell Westbrook and Oklahoma City. The playoffs feature the season’s toughest battles, and Beverley is regarded by many observers as the Clippers’ most relentless competitor.
“Our mindset doesn’t change,” Beverley said. “Still trying to be a higher seed in the playoffs than we’re in right now.”
With the All-Star break over, the Clippers have 23 games remaining in the regular season.
As the NBA schedule resumes Thursday, the Clippers (32-27) are in the eighth and final Western Conference playoff spot. Four games separate the five teams that stand sixth through 10th in the standings. In order, that’s Utah, San Antonio, the Clippers, Sacramento and the Lakers.
There is a belief within the Clippers organization that 46 victories could be required to make the playoffs in the West. To reach that number, the Clippers have what seems to be a favorable schedule. Eleven of their remaining games are against teams with losing records, including Friday’s first post-break matchup at Memphis. There are also four games against Cleveland and New York, which own two of this season’s three worst records in the league.
The Clippers are 17-15 against the opponents remaining on their schedule. They have 13 more home games, and one of their 10 road matchups will be played at their home arena, Staples Center, against the Lakers.
ESPN projects the Clippers to win 44 games, with an 82.1% chance of making the playoffs.
The roster could get deeper in the coming weeks. Forward Luc Mbah a Moute, who was expected to be among the team’s top defenders but has missed all but four games with a sore left knee, is likely to practice soon, coach Doc Rivers said. So is Wilson Chandler, an acquisition from Philadelphia who has yet to appear in a Clippers uniform while recovering from a right quad strain.
Making the playoffs for the first time since 2017 would require the Clippers to send their first-round pick in June’s NBA draft to Boston. Missing the playoffs would allow the Clippers to keep that pick — though in that scenario the Celtics could still receive a lottery-protected first-round pick in 2020 from the Clippers.
The franchise’s many moves before the Feb. 7 trade deadline positioned it to pursue several top players, either by trade or free agency, and build what owner Steve Ballmer hopes is a perennial contender for NBA titles.
“Being an eighth seed or seventh seed or sixth seed is not our goal in the long run,” Rivers said the morning of the trade deadline. “We want to be champions.”
Asked about the franchise’s appetite to make a playoff push considering the implications on the upcoming draft, Rivers didn’t flinch. After seeing the Clippers come this far already, Rivers — like Beverley — wants to see a playoff breakthrough.
“We’re trying to win,” Rivers said. “We’re going to end that talk right now.”
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